News / Arts & Entertainment

Iceland Golfers Take On Lava Beds, Angry Birds and Wind

A golfer plays a shot on the Golfklubberinn Oddur golf course in Rekyavik June 5, 2013. About 10 percent of Iceland's population plays golf - a higher rate than the United States or Britain - making it the country's second most popular sport, after soccer.
A golfer plays a shot on the Golfklubberinn Oddur golf course in Rekyavik June 5, 2013. About 10 percent of Iceland's population plays golf - a higher rate than the United States or Britain - making it the country's second most popular sport, after soccer.
Reuters
The names of the world's greatest golf venues roll off the tongue like a putt rolling toward the cup. Pebble Beach. St. Andrews. Valderrama.
 
Then there are Vestmannaeyja and Porlakshafnar. Those names don't trip off the tongues of anyone except the hardy residents of Iceland. Surprisingly, this island in the frigid North Atlantic is one of the most golf-obsessed places on earth.
 
With 65 courses for a population of 322,000, Iceland has more courses per person - one for every 5,000 people -- than any other country.
 
Though many are just nine holes, that's nearly twice as many courses per capita as Scotland, according to a 2007 survey by Golf Digest. The magazine said Scotland had the most courses per capita but it didn't count countries with fewer than 500,000 people.
 
About 10 percent of Iceland's population plays golf - a higher rate than the United States or Britain - making it the country's second most popular sport, after soccer.
 
In contrast to America and Britain, golf club membership in Iceland is still growing, albeit more slowly than before the country's banking bubble burst five years ago.
 
“We joke that if just three or four people are living near one another, they'll probably start a golf club,” said Haukur Orn Birgisson, a young attorney who serves as vice chairman of the Icelandic Golf Union.
 
Indeed, some clubs have as few as 20 members, dedicated souls who will upkeep the course themselves.
 
Birgisson's club, Golfklubberinn Oddur, just outside Reykjavik, is among the country's largest, with 1,300 members. Like most clubs in Iceland it is open to the public as well as members, charging a guest fee of 6,900 Icelandic krona ($57).
 
Iceland's golf season includes the annual Arctic Open tournament, scheduled this year for June 27 to 29. Open to amateurs and professionals alike, it's played at the Akureyri Golf Club in northern Iceland, which boasts of being “the most northerly 18-hole golf course” on earth.
 
Lava Beds, Terns, and Winds
 
Golf is popular in Iceland despite the obvious drawbacks. The season lasts just four months, from mid-May to mid-September. Summer temperatures rarely venture above 15 degrees Celsius (59 Fahrenheit) and even then occasional days of wicked winds and steady mist can keep all but the most foolhardy or dedicated off the course.
 
Iceland does offer unique advantages and challenges to golfers. Most notably, in June, July and August, golfers can play virtually 24 hours a day.
 
Golfklubburinn Keiler in suburban Reykjavik is booked solid all summer with starting times from 8 am until 10 pm.  Playing under the midnight sun can be surreal and sublime, especially if a tee time starts your round at 10 pm.
 
Another advantage: Iceland's cool, moist climate makes for lush, green fairways. Also, golf courses don't have trees to disrupt errant shots. Trees aren't native in Iceland.
 
Iceland does, however, have lava beds, volcanic rock from past eruptions. They dominate the rough on many courses and are filled with crevices that can swallow golf balls like a whale gulping down krill.
 
The lava beds also are nesting sites for Arctic terns, birds that migrate from pole to pole. Golfers hitting near a tern's nest will find themselves playing their next shot under aerial bombardment from the ill-tempered birds.
 
Volcanic rocks are seen at the Golfklubberinn Oddur golf course, near Rekyavik, June 5, 2013. The lava beds dominate the rough on many courses, and the beds are filled with crevices that swallow mis-hit golf balls.Volcanic rocks are seen at the Golfklubberinn Oddur golf course, near Rekyavik, June 5, 2013. The lava beds dominate the rough on many courses, and the beds are filled with crevices that swallow mis-hit golf balls.
x
Volcanic rocks are seen at the Golfklubberinn Oddur golf course, near Rekyavik, June 5, 2013. The lava beds dominate the rough on many courses, and the beds are filled with crevices that swallow mis-hit golf balls.
Volcanic rocks are seen at the Golfklubberinn Oddur golf course, near Rekyavik, June 5, 2013. The lava beds dominate the rough on many courses, and the beds are filled with crevices that swallow mis-hit golf balls.
Formidable lava beds line the course on Heimaey Island, population 4,500, about three hours by car south east of Reykjavik. A lava flow from a 1973 volcanic eruption almost choked the harbor, but today cruise ships bring bird watchers, nature lovers and, yes, golfers.
 
The sheer cliffs, lava beds and sea vistas made it “the most dramatic course I have ever played”, said Kimber Bilby, an American from Michigan who played the course recently in calm weather with her fiance´, Bob Prust, a physician. One of their favorites was the par three 17th hole, which requires a tee shot across a sea inlet and lava beds to reach the green.
 
On the day the couple played, most golfers on the course were local Heimaey residents, many of them children of high-school and even grade-school age.
 
“I was watching the kids practice their chipping and putting, and they were awfully good,” said Prust. “It was obvious they had played the course many times.”
 
As for why golf is so popular here, Birgisson cites the Icelandic character.
 
“We always seem to go 'all in,' and golf is no exception,” he explained. “That mentality didn't serve us well leading up to the banking crisis, but it has taken us far with golf.”

You May Like

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As the tumult in the Middle East distracts Obama, shifting American focus eastward appears threatened More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

The Hamilton Live

Trumpeter, percussionist and bandleader Etienne Charles was born in Trinidad and blends island rhythms with modern jazz. He and his stellar band perform a rich gumbo of jazz, calypso, reggae, and rock-steady that Charles calls “Creole Soul” on "The Hamilton Live."